Can 'Super Slovak' Kaplan lead Geylang into TNP League Cup final?
Eagles relying on Slovak to lead them into final
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL v ALBIREX NIIGATA
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
With 10 goals in three matches, Geylang International go into tonight's The New Paper (TNP) League Cup semi-finals as top scorers.
Brazil-born Japanese attacker Bruno Castanheira's tally of five goals makes him the tournament's leading marksman.
Winger Hafiz Nor, with three goals, is tied in second spot on the scorers' chart.
But Jozef Kaplan is the man who makes the Eagles tick.
While comparatively modest in front of goal with two strikes in the League Cup, the attacking midfielder's contributions are much more important than that.
Speaking to The New Paper about his talisman and attacking fulcrum, Geylang coach Jorg Steinebrunner said: "We all know what Jozef brings to the team, and how important he is when he plays.
"He brings leadership, composure and he's a good role model for the rest of his teammates.
"He's got heart, a tremendous work-rate, and a never-say-die attitude. That's why he's valuable to us and that's why he's such a key player.
"But as always, it's all about the team. As a coach, I've always maintained that you need the whole team to do their part."
Kaplan, though, recognises the weight of expectation he is set to shoulder tonight.
Geylang have never won the League Cup in the tournament's eight-year history.
The 29-year-old Slovak is well aware that it is a statistic that needs some alteration.
"We are the highest-scoring team, and that's one positive aspect about goals, because it can only motivate us even more," said Kaplan.
"I fully believe my team and I will do our best to achieve (the Cup) and make everyone associated with Geylang proud, but we also cannot put ourselves under too much pressure.
"Doing so will only make things more difficult for us and, with Albirex being such tough opponents, we have to be wary.
"But we have momentum on our side, after playing against DPMM and winning 4-2.
"We haven't had much time to rest and recuperate, but we are motivated and very much looking forward to the game."
With a skilful and determined Albirex side standing in the way of what would be his second League Cup triumph as a coach - he won it with Woodlands Wellington in the inaugural 2007 edition - Steinebrunner insisted he has it all under control.
"To be honest, I haven't given (the prospect of a second League Cup triumph) much thought," he said.
"It's all about the next 90 minutes.
"Albirex will pose us a few problems but, then again, problems are there to be solved.
"In football, you have to analyse the opponent, learn about them, and see what you can exploit.
"We've done our preparations, and now I hope everything falls into place."
"He’s got heart, a tremendous work-rate, and a never-say-die attitude. That’s why he’s valuable to us and that’s why he’s such a key player."
- Geylang International coach Jorg Steinebrunner on Jozef Kaplan
GEYLANG’S ROAD TO SEMIS
- June 23 — beat Singapore Recreation Club 4-0
- June 27 — drew 2-2 with Hougang United
- July 2 — beat Brunei DPMM 4-2
By the number
Geylang International have scored 10 goals in three TNP League Cup matches. Bruno Castanheira has accounted for half of that tally, while the other goals came from Hafiz Nor (three) and Jozef Kaplan (two).
Albirex gunning for first trophy since 2011
INSPIRATION: The Albirex squad (above) will be hoping to emulate their class of 2011 (lbelow, celebrating their League Cup triumph that year). TNP PHOTOS: CHOO CHWEE HUA
Four years have passed since Albirex Niigata lifted their only piece of silverware on Singaporean soil - the 2011 League Cup.
The Japanese satellite club's victory, achieved via a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Hougang United after a goalless draw at the end of extra time, was one to cherish.
The White Swans' passage to that final saw both their quarter- and semi-finals go all the way to extra time and, each time, they got past the line with a combination of good fortune and grit.
Along the way, they beat the likes of Geylang United (now International) and Tampines Rovers.
Having qualified for the semi-finals of this year's The New Paper League Cup, Albirex are calling on the spirit of 2011 to end their trophy drought.
They topped Group C with two wins, one of them a 2-0 standout win over an experienced but out-of-sorts Home United on June 22.
Incidentally, two key players from Albirex's Class of 2011, Tatsuro Inui and Bruno Castanheira, are now starring for Geylang, their opponents in tonight's first semi-final at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Nevertheless, Albirex will start as slight favourites.
Flying high in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League on 23 points, just one shy of table-toppers Warriors FC, Albirex look to be the strongest side among the last four in the TNP League Cup.
Hougang United and Balestier Khalsa will play each other in the second semi-final tomorrow.
Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama made no secret of his team's ambition after the win over Home.
"This was a very difficult game, but we managed to win today and got the points we needed," he said.
"Now, I just want to focus on our main target, which is to be the champions of this League Cup."
But as this year's League Cup has thrown up a lot of surprises, Albirex's team manager Yeo Junxian isn't taking anything for granted.
"Four years is indeed a long time to wait for another trophy. If we manage to win (against Geylang), then we will really have the chance to fight for the title," said Yeo.
"Our position in the league table is secondary. As the saying goes, the form book can be thrown out during cup matches.
"Moreover, we have to be cautious and take into account that all three teams have got good results during the group stages of the League Cup.
"Geylang and Hougang defeated the defending champions Brunei DPMM, and Balestier put four past Warriors, so that says something.
"They have shown that they know what it takes to beat teams who are better than them on paper."
Albirex had four different scorers - Itsuki Yamada, Kento Nagasaki, Atsushi Kawata and Rion Taki - in the identical 2-0 group-stage wins over Home and amateur outfit Sporting Westlake, but it was 35-year-old goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa who stood out by keeping clean sheets.
"Throughout the season, and not just the League Cup, the player who's stood out for us is Nozawa," said Yeo.
"He brings with him bags of experience, having played at the top level in Japan for many years, and he has made plenty of crucial saves to help us win games.
"Tomorrow, winning the game is of utmost importance.
"Even if we have to do it via the dreaded penalty shoot-out, we'll take it."